France, 19 July 1556
‘Jules, you’re not leaving again, are you? It’s already dark and the roads are dangerous at this hour. You know I don’t like it.’ Martine sighed. She knew her son wouldn’t listen. He wasn’t afraid as was his mother, who by nightfall closed the house very firmly and would let nobody in. They didn’t possess much and they lived from what they cultivated on their own. Some vegetables, potatoes and they also had a few goats for the milk. Jules sometimes worked in town and so one week they had a bit more than the other when he hadn’t a job to do. However, Martine was pleased with this situation. She was happy when they had something to eat and when they could warm the house.
Her son, on the other hand, was something else. The wealth of the gentlemen who were of noble birth had made him jealous and rebellious. She knew he spent time with his friends who were not afraid to ambush a lonely traveler. They weren’t murderers, just thieves, but even that, she couldn’t approve of. Still, she never showed her disapproval. Without her son, Jules, she would lose her reason for being alive. She wouldn’t confront him with it by lecturing him. With his fierce personality, he could slam the door behind him and never return anymore.
Jules indeed had an appointment with his friends Nicolas and René. They knew one of the dignitaries of the town was visiting his sister in the countryside. Late in the evening he would return to town in his coach. A few good mugs of beer had made the servant of the dignitary very loose-lipped. They would hide in the forest through which the carriage drove and let it break apart by digging a pit they would camouflage with branches and leaves.
‘Maman, Mother, don’t worry. I know my way in the dark better than anyone and who would like to attack me is warned. They will not live to tell it.’ He touched his belt on which a large hunting knife was attached. He took his coat and his hat and gave his mother a quick kiss. ‘Don’t stay up, little mother, you are not getting younger these days and you need your sleep. Tomorrow morning I will feed the animals and will milk the goats, so you can sleep a little longer.’
Before Martine had said something, Jules had left. With a rather heavy heart, she locked the door behind him. It wasn’t the first time, he left her alone in the evening, but today she felt more restless than ever. She didn’t know why. Her late husband wouldn’t have been particularly concerned about this. Maybe things would have been different if he hadn’t fallen through the roof of the shed while he was repairing it. His death had left an empty space for both she and her son, Jules. The boy had missed a father in his life, someone who could raise him with a strong hand. Someone to look up to. Nowadays he only listened to the foolishness of some friends. She would, despite she went directly to bed, finding it difficult to get to sleep. To fret about things was typical for her.
Jules had walked along the country road and through the forest till he reached the crossing. There, his friends were busy digging a pit. ‘Come on, Jules, you may join us. We’re already half an hour working, lazybones.’ It was said in a friendly way, but Nicolas was someone you didn’t contradict. Jules wasn’t afraid of him. However, he wouldn’t like to lose his friendship. Nicolas knew a lot of vicious tricks and could crack a door lock in less than five minutes. A lot of citizens had discovered this, to their chagrin, in the early morning. He also had a lot of contacts to make money out of their stolen goods. No, Nicolas was his friend and he would do anything to keep it that way.
‘When do you expect the coach, Nicolas?’ Jules asked while he was helping to cover the pit with a lot of branches. Meanwhile, René had fetched a bunch of leaves from between the trees to throw over the mesh of branches. The perfect trap for their prey. This fat dignitary was worth his weight in gold. On different occasions, they had seen his purse with golden coins on his belt. They would make it less heavy this evening. This pedantic show-off wouldn’t feel it, he was rich enough.
‘It can reach the bend any minute, I suppose. Hide on the side and wait till the coach has ridden in the pit. I do the talking during the ambush and don’t forget to put your scarf before your face. We don’t want to be lifted from our bed tomorrow morning by the soldiers of the Lord. Couchez-vous! Hide!’
Both Jules and René were hidden on the left side of the pit, Nicolas on the other side. It almost lasted ten minutes before they heard the sound of galloping horse hoof around the corner. The coach rode very fast and drove straight to the pit. Despite the fact, that it was a full moon, the charioteer couldn’t see the trap and the inevitable happened. One of the coach’s wheels bumped through the hole that they had dug and the axle broke. The vehicle fell on his side and the man upon the box of the coach flew over the horses on the ground. The startled animals were fuming with fear. Inside the coach, somebody was screaming.
Nicolas jumped from behind the bushes and walked at the coach, after checking the driver who was unconscious. He opened the door of the tilted vehicle. Inside, the dignitary was crying for help. When he saw Nicolas, with his scarf before his nose and mouth, he realized what the score was. He couldn’t run away, obviously one of his legs was broken, but he knew he had to give as fast as possible his purse to these bandits. They wouldn’t take his life, only his purse.
‘Hurry up, man, your money or I’ll finish you off with my knife.’ Nicolas stretched out his hand with his knife at the man, to convince him. The dignitary needed not to be persuaded. He threw his purse outside the coach and Nicolas capably caught it.
‘Ask him to put off his rings too, maybe we can make some money selling them?’ Jules yelled at his friend. He was trying to look tough by making a suggestion. Actually the plan was Nicolas’ and Jules and René were there as moral support or in case something would go wrong. Jules knew this but would never say so.
Nicolas look a moment at him. ‘Good advice, friend, and come on… you hear the man, rings out or I cut your fingers off with the rings still on if it takes too much time.’
The man couldn’t hurry enough to get them off his fat fingers. One of the rings shove somewhat difficult and the sweat poured from the face of the nobleman. After making his finger wet with his own saliva, he finally succeeded to squeeze the thing from his finger.
Meanwhile, René had released the horses and send them into the forest. In the morning, they would surely find their way back to town. Nicolas disappeared in the coach and they heard the unfortunate man shouting from fear. Shortly after that he was silent again. Jules knew his friend had beaten him unconscious to avoid he should see in which direction they would escape.
Jules suddenly heard a cry behind him. When he looked behind, the body of René laid on the ground, just a few paces away from him, but he saw nobody around. Jules pulled his knife and walked slowly to his friend. When he was close, he saw that his friend’s throat was cut and blood was flowing on the ground. Frightened, he looked around him. He also looked at the driver and noticed he was murdered, in the same way.
‘Nicolas, something is wrong here. René and the driver of the coach are murdered. Maybe a predator? I don’t know.’ Nicolas didn’t answer. Slowly Jules walked back at the coach. ‘Nicolas? Where are you, Nicolas? Damn it, answer me.’ Alas, he didn’t get his answer. With a quick glance, he looked through the door of the coach and held his breath. Inside the coach, there were two dead bodies. One was his friend Nicolas and the other was the dignitary, both killed, in the same way, as René.
A rustling sound, as a soft wind going through the trees, reached his ears. He turned very fast in the direction of the sound and stretched out his arm with the knife. A man was bent over the body of René. He couldn’t see who he was, but it has to be a very long man, he roughly estimated. Jules didn’t know what to do. Was the stranger here to help him? Or was he the murderer? Who could take three lives in the blink of an eye and in such a bloody manner? With his knife protruded, he approached the stranger. Now he clearly heard a sound that scared the devil out of him. This man was sucking and licking the blood out of the throat of his friend. Just like an animal. A madman?
The stranger suddenly stood up and Jules saw he had estimated the length of the man correctly. He was almost a head higher than Jules, but he was rather scrawny. How could such a thin man handle tree robust men? His blood almost stopped flowing when he looked at the face of the man. Blood was spread from his mouth to his nose and chin. But it was those two fangs that frightfully glimmered in the light of the moon that got him goose bumps. He wanted to run away, as far as possible from this place. He would like to hide in a little shed in the dark and take cover in a corner to forget all about it. However, his feet refused to do what he desperately wanted to do. The eyes of the stranger compelled him to stand still. How many times he told himself to run for the hills, nothing helped.
‘Hello, dear young man. Are you going somewhere? That’s not very polite of you. May I introduce myself? Count Dragosj. And you are…?’
Jules tried to answer, but he heard nothing coming out of his mouth. It was as if the sound was taken from his voice. Just like his feet refused to do what he said, his voice didn’t follow his orders too.
‘If I’m correct, your mother has called you Jules at your birth. Don’t bother, you insignificant mortal. I read your mind as an open book. However, don’t fear, because today it’s a memorable day for you.’
A surprised look appeared on Jules’ face. How could this be a memorable day for him? In a few moments, he suspected, to follow his friends as a fresh corpse. He really wouldn’t get the time to remember this incident.
‘No, Jules, I will not end your life. On the contrary, I will give you a new one, one that will last longer that this miserable life you’re living.’
One second the man stood a few paces away, the next moment he stood very close to him… and Jules couldn’t still move an inch. He had heard stories about nightwalkers. Fairytales he thought. Or maybe told because of strange incidents concerning a mad murderer who sought his victims in the night. When the man pulled his lips away with a deadly grin, he knew the stories his mother and her peers were telling, weren’t a myth. First, he had thought he had dreamt the fangs, but this close, he saw they were very real.
Jules couldn’t resist the compelling look of the Count. Without him asking, he uncovered his neck and offered him to the stranger. There was no hesitating because the man set his teeth on the white skin of Jules’ neck. Fortunately, the man was holding him, otherwise he had fallen on the ground. It took some time before the nightwalker had satisfied his thirst. Eventually, he stopped and looked at Jules in a soft and friendly way.
‘My dear boy, it has been a long time I’ve done this. But today I’m aware again of the nostalgic feeling of parenthood and that’s why…’ he stopped talking for a moment, bit his wrist with a growl and offered it to Jules. ‘That’s why I baptize you with your new name in the blood… Julius! From now on, you’re mine, till I say otherwise. If I call you, you will come. If I ask you something, you will answer. I’m your creator and your master till one day the sun will call one of us.’
Jules first tried to pull away from the offered wrist, but the compelling force was too strong. He couldn’t resist and with disgust he put his lips against the bloody wrist of Count Dragosj. The blood tasted sweet and metallic and the more he had drunk of it, the more he felt dizzy in a strange way. The surroundings began to distort. The trees around him narrowed in his range of vision to widen again bigger than before. The sounds of the forest were amplified a dozen times. He heard sounds he had never heard and he knew what they were. Everything had intertwined, the images, the sounds and the feelings in him. He had never felt this way. His heart was ruffling in his chest as a runaway horse and at some moment, he thought it would burst out of his protective cover, but then… it was beating slower and slower and he became unconscious. He became also another man… a man who from now would be called Julius.
© Rudi J.P. Lejaeghere